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Cruel Beautiful World

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3.82  ·  Rating details ·  3,402 ratings  ·  598 reviews
Caroline Leavitt is at her mesmerizing best in this haunting, nuanced portrait of love, sisters, and the impossible legacy of family. It's 1969, and sixteen-year-old Lucy is about to run away with a much older man to live off the grid in rural Pennsylvania, a rash act that will have vicious repercussions for both her and her older sister, Charlotte. As Lucy's default caret ...more
Hardcover, 357 pages
Published October 4th 2016 by Algonquin Books (first published September 19th 2016)
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Irena BookDustMagic
Nov 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Cruel Beautiful World hit me in a way only few books can.
The story, even though is fictional, became personal to me.
Reading this book, written in the most beautiful way, became hard for me.
I already know that writing this review will be even harder.

Cruel Beautiful World talks about three sisters, Lucy and Charlotte, adopted by their aunt much older sister Iris.
Set in late 1960s and early 1970s, the story briefly talks about Mason girls and perfectly describes the atmosphere and fear that was pre
...more
Diane S ☔
Jul 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
iris never expected to be a parent, after her unconventional marriage and the death of her husband, she thought all that was behind her. When she is asked to assume the guardianship of two young girls, girls whose relationship to Iris is closer than they know, she hesitates and then accepts. She becomes the mother to Lucy and Charlotte, both at a very young age. Throughout the years they become a family but Charlotte will forever feel the protector of Lucy.

A very readable story set against the b
...more
Larry H
Mar 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
For 16-year-old Lucy Gold, life is about feeling love, passion, emotion. It's the late 1960s, and in her Boston suburb of Waltham, she thinks she's the only one with these kinds of feelings. Her older sister Charlotte is beautiful and smart, but would rather study and get good grades than pursue any kind of relationship, and her adoptive mother Iris is much older, so Lucy is sure she's never known love before either. It's so hard with no one understanding her, everyone writing off her difficulti ...more
Taryn
Oct 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
"Why do you always have to think about the worst things?"
"Because the worst things happen all the time."


A character-driven novel about the messiness of love and coping with loss. Sixteen-year-old Lucy runs away with her thirty-year-old English teacher, leaving only a vague note for her adoptive mother and older sister to find. They don't know if they'll ever see her again and Lucy's mysterious disappearance leaves a hole in their lives that can never be filled. Lucy is excited to be a
...more
Victoria
Apr 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Love, obsession and forgiveness illuminated.

In my continual quest to read books I own and also clear out some of the TBR backlog, I picked this up a couple of weeks ago and was immediately subsumed by this gripping tale. Every character in this story merits their own book and it is a marvel how Leavitt weaves in their back stories filled with secrets, loss and the inevitability of moving on.

Control wasn’t freedom. It didn’t protect anyone, not you or the ones you loved, and if anything, it
...more
Suzanne Leopold (Suzy Approved Book Reviews)
This book is set in the backdrop of the late '60s with the ongoing trials of Charles Manson. Lucy is 16 years old and in a relationship with William, her high school English teacher. They decide to run away together at the end of the school year. She leaves behind her sister, Charlotte, and her adoptive mother, Iris. Lucy and Charlotte lost both of their parents at a young age.

They settle in rural Pennsylvania where life is less than ideal for Lucy. She expected a life of love but instead is kep
...more
☮Karen
Oct 01, 2016 rated it really liked it

3.5 stars.

If you read the blurb and think this is about a 16 year old girl who runs off with her 30 something teacher, you'd be only half right. True, Lucy Gold leaves her sister Charlotte and "Mom" Iris in a quandary over where she could be, and yes, most of the story revolves around Lucy's lonely, sheltered existence in the aftermath. But the offshoots into the backgrounds of the few other characters are handled with ease as well. Iris is lonely but content enough with her life, when she gets
...more
Cheri
Aug 18, 2017 rated it really liked it

“Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older too”
“Landslide” – lyrics by Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac

Philandering fathers, unconventional, dysfunctional marriages, orphaned sisters and hidden truths, secret love and love at last. Murders. This story takes place in the 1960’s, with everything that defines that era, Vietnam, the clothing, the music, the riots, communes, the chants for peace and love. A
...more
Toni
Apr 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
4.5 to 5.0 haunting, drawn out, hazy, mesmerizing stars.

I tried to stop reading it a few times, actually, but how could I; that bible or prayer verse kept popping up in the back of my head, "There, but the Grace of God, go me." It wasn't exactly the same but it was close enough. Funny thing though, I didn't notice it for a long time until I was already gripped by the story of two teenage girls without parents, in 1969. Summer of love about to happen in a big way, for so many, in big and small wa
...more
Betsy Robinson
Aug 19, 2016 rated it liked it
Postscript to review: Caroline Leavitt just did a really interesting and engaging NPR interview about the stories behind the book. I recommend it to see if you might like this book.

Orphaned sisters, an old mother who finds old love, illicit dysfunctional love and murder. This story has the best of soap opera and women’s fiction. Although it’s listed as general and literary fiction, it does not feel literary. The story is told the way you would tell a child a story—straight-forward, one plot poin
...more
Myrna
Nov 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobooks
GREAT novel! A Cruel Beautiful World was extremely addictive. The characters were richly drawn and easy to fall in love with. Wasn't sure what to expect from this novel and it turned out to be an intense, pleasant surprise. I absolutely recommend it! I know I'll be thinking about this one for awhile. Nicely done Ms. Leavitt. Nearly a 5 star read (view spoiler) ...more
Jessica Jeffers
Nov 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I've seen this book compared to The Girls in several places, which strikes me as curious because I think they had very little in common other than the fact that it took place against the backdrop of the Manson trials.

And yet, this is basically the book that I was hoping for when I picked up The Girls.

It begins with Lucy Gold, a sixteen-year-old girl who has made the decision to run away from home with her English teacher, William Lallo. Lucy and her older sister Charlotte have been living with
...more
Ann Marie (Lit·Wit·Wine·Dine)
Cruel Beautiful World is a book filled with so many stories within stories and themes I'm not sure how the author, Caroline Leavitt, managed to incorporate them all so organically and seamlessly into one book.

Lucy is 16 years old and has run away with her high school English teacher. Though her sister, Charlotte, and her guardian, Iris, do everything in their power to find her and bring her home, Lucy remains missing and the weeks turn to months.

As Lucy remains missing, we learn a lot about Ir
...more
Carolyn
This is a novel about three women. Lucy and Charlotte, sisters who are orphaned at a young age and Iris, a 'distant' relative who puts her own life on hold to adopt them and bring them up. Previously married but never having never had children of her own, Iris soon comes to love the girls as her own. The novel opens in 1969, with a backdrop of communes, free love, protests, the Vietnam war and the Manson family trial. Charlotte, the older, responsible sister is in her final year of school and ge ...more
Jacqueline Wheeler
Aug 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Another 5 star read! I made a whole vlog about reading cult books, and alot of my thoughts for this one are in that vlog: https://youtu.be/FbrXW_SokMQ
My best friend Gwen, told me to read this book and I'm glad I took her word for it. Even though its historical fiction, its told in the 60s and 70s during the hippie era, and Caroline concocted the most amazing characters for this book. This is a taboo romance about a 16 year old girl, who runs off with her school teacher without telling anyone. Tu
...more
Rebecca Renner
Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt has been difficult for me to review. I finished it a few days ago, and since then, I’ve been ruminating on it.

In its essence, Cruel Beautiful World is a novel about family and love. But the horrible underside of humanity is afoot as well. Yes, it takes place during the same time as the Manson murders, but that isn’t the true specter that hangs over the characters’ psyches. The true roots of the novel’s conflict lie in the question: How well can we reall
...more
Debbie Mcafee
Oct 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
It was ok . . . maybe 2 1/2 stars but not quite the "seductive page-turner that ripples with an undercurrent of suspense" that The Boston Globe claimed it was!
I liked the story all right, but it was easy to put down and disappointing. The book was billed a coming-of-age novel about two sisters and it simply wasn't that. I felt like I was reading a romance novel -- all plot, not much character development; I never felt a connection with Lucy, Iris, or Charlotte which is unlike me as a reader. Eve
...more
Lisa
Nov 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Cruel Beautiful World is stunning and beautiful. And cruel. So devastating that at times I gasped out loud. I loved how fully realized and complicated the characters are - Iris, Lucy and Charlotte and the way each of them tries to find a fuller, bigger life. I love Leavitt's writing. I love the way it ended, so true to the story. An excellent, page-turning novel. ...more
Kate Moretti
Aug 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Completely captivating look at teenage angst in the free love era. The setting was isolating and I could feel the loneliness of Lucy and the quiet desperation of Charlotte. The family backstory was incredibly poignant, so sad and hopeful, and Leavitt did a wonderful job of bringing all the characters, even the side characters (like the farmer!) to life in heartbreaking ways. The plot was surprising and the end was emotional and fitting. Highly recommend this book!
Terrie Robinson
"Cruel Beautiful World" by Caroline Leavitt was a book I had trouble putting down!

The late 60's and early 70's were turbulent times with reckless individuals making poor decisions and living on the edge! A teenage student with a crush on her English teacher isn't that unusual to imagine but as this relationship blossoms it's clearly a crush on "steroids"! However, there is so much more to this book than this one relationship. So much more!

There is strong character development and a tender back
...more
Susan
This beautifully written story flows like warm water. It didn't have a ton of suspense until about half way through when I became concerned for the safety of one of the sisters and then shortly after for the other sister. The story was engaging and compelling, mostly centered on the lives of these two girls and their guardian Iris. It's a sad and haunting story and a bit heartbreaking. I listened to the audio and the narration was perfect. Her gentle voice was exactly what this story needed! ...more
Lori
Nov 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2016
There is one huge shocking moment in this book, at least for me, that nearly wrecked me and while I wasn't loving the book anyway, it probably knocked my rating down from 3.5 to 3. Not even sure why it had to happen. I had to keep reading of course but overall I wouldn't really recommend it. ...more
Peaches
Jul 03, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: entertainment
"Lucy runs away with her high school teacher, William, on a Friday, the last day of school, a June morning shiny with heat" (1). What an intriguing first sentence that could easily follow with a second sentence such as "And then the murders began.." Creepy, yes? Too bad this book isn't at all! Wiley Cash (whoever that is) professes on the cover that this book is "gorgeous and seductive," which I couldn't care less that I didn't view this novel in a sexual way, but I was extremely disappointed th ...more
Danielle Woods
Oct 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I read this entire book in one day. I love this author. There is just something about her writing that just sucks me right in.

Lucy and Charlotte come to live with Iris when they are very young and orphaned. The story follows the girls as they both grow up and take their own paths in life. Lucy makes a life altering decision when she decides to run away to rural Pennsylvania with her 30 year old teacher.

This sets the book in motion as Charlottes and Iris look for Lucy and ultimately what changes
...more
Athena
Oct 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Haunting and beautifully written novel. This novel stays with you and the characters are so well developed you feel you are missing an old friend or an enemy you can't shake. This book takes place mostly in the early 70's when Charles Manson is a house hold name and his girls are protesting for his release from jail. Hitchhiking is a common way to get around and The Panthers are on college campuses recruiting. The main characters are two sisters who are orphaned and a relative takes them in when ...more
Gwendolyn Kensinger
Apr 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is almost one of those stories that is hard to review. It's such a whirlwind and I inhaled it in just one day. There's something about the vintage feel of the artwork on the cover and the time period of the story that is haunting and evocative. The characters in Cruel Beautiful World definitely left me breathless. It seemed so real set against the backdrop of the late 60's and early 70's. From fashion to war to Mason and his girls on trial I felt that Lucy's, Charlotte's and Iris's story ca ...more
Leslie Lindsay
Jun 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Reading CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD (Algonquin Books, October 4 2016) was like sitting on a sun-soaked porch and having the wind whisper a story in my ear. It's at once alarming and beautiful, thought-provoking, and richly told story of a runaway teenager and her sister's quest to find her.

Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the Manson Murders, CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD is at first blush, a coming-of-age tale, but the story grows immensely darker, about the perils of young love, controlling p
...more
Karen
Mar 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The last two days have been a blur reading Cruel Beautiful World. It as if someone tapped on my shoulder and whispered this story in my ear. Immediately connected to the characters in this phenomenal new novel, I could hear their voices, picture their faces. I could not escape from the stories within the stories. It is 1969 and Charlotte and Lucy come to Waltham, MA to live with Iris, their Mother-like, Aunt-like, Half- sister caretaker - after they are tragically orphaned. Two beautiful little ...more
Reeves Honey
Aug 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Cruel Beautiful World is that total,wonderful read.
All the characters,not just the main ones are well
drawn and the author gives them interesting interior
and exterior lives.
This is a story of sisters,Charlotte and Lucy. When we
first meet them to paraphrase Tolstoy "all unhappy teenagers
are alike; each unhappy in their own way."
They are orphans and live with Iris who they think of as step-mother.
Grave,serious Charlotte,an A student is in the constant state of anxiety over the SATs and
getting a sch
...more
Tess
May 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: faves-of-2016
Wow, what a haunting whirlwind of a book. It sucks you in from the first sentence and doesn’t let you go until the very end. It’s rare that books like this one come around, and I wanted to both savor it and devour it.

A beautiful and heart-breaking story about two sisters, and the adoptive Mom they share, Cruel Beautiful World rockets the reader in to the late 60s, when everyone was trying to figure out what “free love” meant, and things seemed just a little bit scarier than they do now. It touc
...more
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Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times bestselling author of Cruel Beautiful World (out in paperback August 8th! 2017) s This Tomorrow and Pictures of You (Algonquin Books), which. Pictures of You was on the Best Books of the Year lists from the San Francisco Chronicle, The Providence Journal, Bookmarks and Kirkus Reviews. It was also a Costco Pennie's Pick. Is This Tomorrow was long listed for th ...more

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